In front of a rowdy home crowd, men’s water polo defeated the No. 7 Long Beach State 49ers 11-9 in overtime Thursday. After beating the 49ers 13-5 earlier this season, the Trojans headed into the rematch ranked No. 1 for the first time in the 2017 season. Nevertheless, the 49ers kept the game close, never trailing by more than 3 points.
“That was a scary one, for sure,” senior goalie McQuin Baron said. “I didn’t like that much but it’s always good to have a game like this, play under pressure because last season we didn’t really play any overtime games or any fourth-quarter close games and this season we’ve had four or five already. So going into the back end of our season, going back to these games will really help us out.”
From the start, the game was tight, with both teams held scoreless for the first six minutes. USC two-meter sophomore Matt Maier broke through and scored with 1:39 left in the first, and senior utility Bryce Hoerman tacked onto the Trojans’ lead with 37 seconds left. The 49ers were able to respond quickly in the second, tying the game by the half 3-3.
The third quarter play remained close, and the Trojans entered the fourth with a slim 6-5 lead. USC added two more goals in the fourth, but with 3:29 left, Long Beach scored three unanswered goals to tie the score at 8, sending the game into overtime.
“In between quarters there, overtime and everything, it was just X’s and O’s,” senior utility James Walters said. “We were talking about what we can do differently, some things that we didn’t do so well and what we were going to do on the next play. For us it’s just what’s going to happen next time.”
With 4.7 seconds left in the first overtime, Maier broke through to give the Trojans a 9-8 lead. Freshman driver Marko Vavic followed with a goal early in double overtime for the Trojans. Long Beach junior defender Austin Stevenson scored with 1:15 left in the game to close the gap to 10-9, but USC senior driver Grant Stein scored with a second left in the session to seal the win for the Trojans, 11-9.
With the ultimate goal of a national championship in mind, the team still has room to improve before heading into the back half of its season.
“Counterattack defense needs to be better, we need to improve on that,” Baron said. “Our 6-on-5 was kind of weak today, I think on a few of them we didn’t even get a shot, which is kind of unacceptable when you have a man advantage.”
With their four-game winning streak at stake, the No. 1 ranked Trojans have two days to rest before traveling to No. 8 UC Santa Barbara Saturday.
“Santa Barbara, you never know,” Walters said. “Their pool, one end is shallow, the crowd is great there, it’s always a really fun environment, there’s a lot of energy there. I’m looking forward to that game, and I know the guys are. It’s always fun.”